US Senator Wants War Crimes Tribunal for Taylor

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

June 13, 2002

Editor’s Note: At the Tuesday (June 11, 2002) hearing on "Weak States in Africa: U.S. Policy in Liberia", Sen. Russ Feingold, Chairman of the Subcommittee on African Affairs said that Charles Taylor is a war criminal, and that he hoped 'to see him held accountable for his actions in a court of law”. Below is Senator Feingold’s Statement:

I call this hearing to order. I want to thank all of the witnesses for being here today as the Subcommittee on African Affairs convenes the third hearing in a series focusing on weak states in Africa.

The series attempts to identify some of the characteristics of Africa's weakest states that make the region attractive to terrorists and other international criminals, focusing on issues such as piracy, illicit air transport networks, and trafficking in arms, gemstones, and people. The subcommittee hopes to identify long-term policy options for changing the context in these states such that they are no longer so weak and so appealing to criminal opportunists. Earlier hearings examined Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Today we turn to the case of Liberia. So often we discuss Liberia only in the context of what is happening in Sierra Leone or Guinea. Those discussions of Liberia's role in the destabilization of the region are certainly appropriate, but they rarely create a space for considering the conditions of the Liberian people, or the state of Liberian institutions, or the extent to which those institutions have been corrupted into private criminal networks aimed at accumulating wealth for those in power.

I believe that is an equally important discussion. And the two are by no means mutually exclusive. The U.S. and the international community have invested tremendous resources in bringing peace to Sierra Leone. The formal end of the war and recent elections are positive signs. But chaos in neighboring Liberia is just the opposite. Consider this: As citizens of Sierra Leone are coming home from the countries in which they sought refuge, Liberians are fleeing into Sierra Leone -- more than 20,000 of them.

For all these reasons -- because our post-September 11 understanding of security threats must include international criminal networks that operate in Africa, because allowing Liberia to deteriorate further without taking action is to ignore a human tragedy, and because the success or failure of a major international intervention in the region hangs in the balance, it makes sense to focus on Liberia today.

Let me be very clear at the outset. I think that the current President of Liberia is a war criminal, and I hope to see him held accountable for his actions in a court of law. I strongly support our continued efforts to isolate and pressure the Taylor regime. I think that there is nearly universal support for this policy within both parties and both chambers of Congress. But I also recognize that pressuring Taylor is not a complete policy toward this troubled and volatile country. We must ask ourselves -- what will Liberia look like in ten years, and what will that mean for the Liberian people, for the West African region, and for international criminal networks? What steps can be taken today to influence that outcome?

With that I want to turn to the ranking member of the subcommittee, Senator Frist. I know that Senator Frist cares deeply about Africa and it is always a pleasure to work with him on this subcommittee. Senator Frist, do you wish to make some opening remarks?

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